Education in Nelson - 1842-2012


The Nelson Province played an important role in the history of New Zealand education. It was the first Province to initiate free public education, taking over the Nelson School Society established by Matthew Campbell. This was a secular school system, with "religious instruction free from all controversial character" and it became the model for the country. Between 1856 and 1859 the Nelson Province built 21 schools and 18 houses for teachers. It had the first secondary school in New Zealand (Catholic) and the first secular secondary school, plus there is Wakefield School; the oldest continuous public school in New Zealand.

This story includes schools which are now part of Nelson City; schools which are now part of Tasman District are listed in a separate story. Both areas were once in the Nelson Province and many of the schools were opened by the Nelson School Society.  

A timeline

Is your school listed here, or do we have a Your Story about your school? You are welcome to submit a story about your school, or add a comment to this timeline so that we can add relevant dates.

Matthew CampbellPortrait of Matthew Campbell, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, 69466/3
Click to enlarge

1842-1900 ; 1901-1940 ; 1941-1960 ; 1961-  


  • March 27 - the first private school in the Nelson settlement opens in a house made of toi toi, in December it moves to a specially built room in Tasman Street
  • September 12: The Nelson Branch of the British and Foreign School Society, with land and financial support from the Nelson Wakefield Company (forerunner of New Zealand Company), opens the first public school in Nelson, located in Bridge Street near the eel pond. The headmaster is William Moore. It closes following the Wairau Affray in June 1843  


  • January 21: ‘Bishop's School' (Bishop Selwyn's Anglican School), a Church of England Elementary School is built in Nile Street, Nelson.
  • february -  the Nelson School Society under the leadership of Matthew Campbell establishes the Nelson Day school. Its first school opens April 7 near Moore's school, near the Eelpond. It closed following the Wairau Affray.  


  • December 28th: A school opens in Brook Green (the original name for Stoke). Later to become Stoke School.


  • An infant school (children under 7) opens in Nelson, which in 1867 is known as the Town Preparatory School. It feeds both Bridge Street and Hardy Street Schools, each now having separate Boys and Girls Schools (with upper and lower divisions).



  • The first secondary school for boys in New Zealand opens in Nelson - a Marist (Catholic)  School run by Brother Moreau. Earlier in the year, Father Garin opens a Catholic boys "first" school
    Father GarinFather Antoine Garin, circa 1870. Photographer unidentified, Alexander Turnbull Library,1/4016333F  Click to enlarge


  • July: The Nelson Education Act of 1856 is passed, based on Matthew Campbell's school system. The Act made the Nelson Province the first in New Zealand to have public schools at which no fees are charged - a Central Board is established to run them. The schools are to be funded through taxation and public revenue. 
  • Nelson College opens in temporary premises in Manuka Street
  • Clifton Terrace School opens


  • Hillside School opens on the Glen side of Clifton Terrace, towards the Wakapuaka turn off. It closed in 1926.


  • Bridge Street School is handed over to the Central Board.


  • Haven Road School is made an independent school (formerly a branch of Bridge Street School, when it was also known as Saltwater Bridge School)
    Hampden Street SchoolHampden Street School - rebuilt after 1892 fire. The Nelson Provincial Museum
    Click to enlarge


  • St Marys School for Girls (a Roman Catholic secondary school) is established. 


  • Hira School is established. Initially known as Happy Valley School, it was sited along the valley road serving the local community, as Hillside school was too far. 


  • In Nelson a school is built at junction of Bridge and Tasman Streets (known as Bridge Street School, Town Boys or Tasman Street School).


  • The New Zealand Education Act is passed (modelled on the Nelson education system).


  • Nelson Central School is established - it was actually a collection of Town Schools to begin with - Bridge St Boys', Bridge St Boys' Preparatory, Hardy St Girls', ToiToi Valley Girls', ToiToi Valley Infants', Haven Road, Hampden Street and Port School, which opened at different times over the years. Only Port School remained as a separate entity from Nelson Central School.


  • Toi Toi Valley school opens. In 1881 a new room for infants is built at the school and in 1883 a new room for senior girls. The school is closed in 1908 with the opening of Nelson Central Girls.


  • A new Haven Road School is built (it became Nelson's largest school in the 1890's)


  • Brook Street School opens (2 Brook Street)


Kate EdgerKate Edger at Nelson College for Girls 1889, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection, part 179045/3
Click to enlarge


  • Elizabeth Bird, the Whangamoa Postmistress ran a “household school”. Parents then provided a rudimentary schoolroom next to the mill, which was later shifted near the Kokorua road. For years there was no proper school committee, and Elizabeth took her turn as school Commissioner and contacted the Education Board when necessary. By 1930 there was an increase in the number of children in the Valley from saw milling and Public Works families and the Education Board was obliged to build a proper school. It remained open until approximately 1950 when the building was moved to become Delaware Bay School.

1892 - 1893

  • Hampden Street School, Bridge Street School and Nelson's new Central School are set alight by an arsonist. The arsonist is caught in March 1893 and later sentenced to four years hard labour.


  • Land purchased for Nelson Central boys school - now the current site of Nelson Central School.


  • The Nelson School of Music (now NCMA) is established. The new boys Central School is burned down. Johann Blecher is arrested for arson. In August, the rebuilt boys Central School is opened


  • Central School's lime trees are planted.


  • Hardy Street Girls School closes.


  • St Marys School for Girls renamed Sacred Heart College.


  • Mixed education is discussed; Boys Central remains for boys, Toi Toi for girls, Tasman Street and Brook Street are joined under one head and Hampden Street and Haven Road under another head.


  • The number of Nelson schools is reduced to two: Nelson Boys Central (encompassing Brook Street and Tasman Street) and Nelson Girls Central (encompassing Haven Road and Hampden Street)


  • Nelson Central Girls is opened in Shelbourne Street on the site once occupied the Shelbourne Street Gaol. This is built to replace Toi Toi Valley School, which was deemed an unhealthy location.
  • Tāhuna (initially Tatahi) School, opens as a side school to Stoke. it becomes independent in 1913 and is renamed Tāhunanui School in 1922.



Auckland Point School 1967Auckland Point School, Nelson PhotoNews 84(14), October 1967
Click to enlarge
  • Auckland Point School opens - Haven Road School site is sold to the City Council
  • Nelson Central Boys School is renamed Nelson Central School with the admittance of girls. The newly constituted school is made up of a main building in Nile Street and two separately located side schools - Brook Street School for Standards one and two and Tasman Street School for infants.


  • June 17: The Nelson College clock tower is destroyed and other school buildings are damaged during the Murchison earthquake


  • New Central Street school building opened



  • Brook Street School closes as a school


  • Nelson's first free kindergarten was established in a public hall at Nelson South in October.


  • Bridge Street Kindergarten (now Bridge Street Early Learning Centre) is opened in May.
  • Delaware Bay School opens - in the lounge of the Franklyn/Ingham House. In 1950 this is replaced by the building housing Whangamoa Saddle School when that closed.
  • Victory School opens







  • Sacred Heart College renamed Redwood College.


Sewing hatsNelson Technical College [predecessor of Polytechnic], sewing hats, The Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection, 118111/6Click to enlarge
  • Nelson Polytechnic (now NMIT) established as a separate institution (was part of Nelson College for a period)
  • Broadgreen Intermediate opens on November 13 in Stoke - on a field which used to be an orchard.


  • Tasman Street School for infants is relocated to Nelson Central School.


  • The first Kohanga Reo is established in Nelson
  • Redwood College closes.


  • Te Pouahi, the bi-lingual Maori/English language unit opens in Nelson Central School.


  • February 23: Garin College in Champion Road, Stoke is blessed and officially opened. The college is named after Nelson's first Parish Priest who established schools in his time

Timeline originally drafted 2002 for the Nelson Provincial Museum and published on the Prow March 2010 with additions (updated 2021)

Sources used in this story

  • May, H. (2005) School beginnings: a 19th Century Colonial story. Wellington: NZCER Press

Want to find out more about the Education in Nelson - 1842-2012 ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • Another book for your list is
    Scrimgeour, Enid (1973) Pakawau School Centenary. Pakawau School Centennial Committee.
    (It also includes pieces on the Puponga & Rakopi Schools)

    Posted by Denise James, 29/08/2019 2:38pm (5 years ago)

  • Interesting to have this record of Nelson schools. I went to school in Appleby, Bainham & Collingwood, and played sports with Rockville and Mangarakua schools. There were some excellent teachers that worked at these remote schools. Aorere and another school at the Devils Boots were closed by the time we got there. I presume they are not listed, as are many other country schools in the Nelson area, because they are now closed? They are part of our history. Later I taught in the Nelson Education Board area - a great Education Board.

    Posted by Brian Baker, 12/01/2018 7:52pm (7 years ago)

  • Why is Tasman Street School not given a mention? I started there in 1946. I think it must be the school now called Matai School. It was a dear little school with very good teachers and it deserves to be remembered as Tasman Street School. My maiden name was McMahon. Ed. We will rectify this

    Posted by Patricia Perry, 11/04/2014 9:47am (10 years ago)

  • Hello In 1965 and 1966 I was a pupil at Sacred Hear College on Manuka Street. I was intrigued that your website and the links do not mention this name. I know it was not always named as such and in became Redwood College but I wondered why it has been omitted. For the time line of St Josephs School, thre is a picture of the significant old Wooden convent but a considerable gap is present in a darker shade of grey when something might have been included about this school. When I was there I recall that there was also a boy's home run by the nuns too. I've studied the Nelson system when I studied the history of education in NZ and it is indeed a very interesting feature of education in NZ. I enjoyed reading your website. Kate Edgar I recall was given noteworthiness at Christchurch Girls' high School when I was there in 1965 beofore going to boarding school in Nelson was an Albertlander (intentional settlement of Non-conformists at Port Albert, Auckland). I am a descendent of Albertlanders and we've just celebrated the 150th anniversay and part of that was given to the Edgar family.

    Posted by Robyn Lewis, ()

  • I too was at Sacred Heart College in Nelson and was a boarder there in 1966.

    Posted by Gail Owens, ()

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Further sources - Education in Nelson - 1842-2012



Specific schools  

  • Broadgreen Intermediate School  Broadgreen 25 (1996) Nelson, New Zealand : Broadgreen Intermediate
  • Clifton Terrace School
    Clifton Terrace School, 1856-2006 : 150th celebrations, 20-22 October 2006 (2006). Nelson, New Zealand: The School.
    Miller, Kerry (2006). Clifton Terrace School  1856 - 2006. Nelson, New Zealand: The Author.

  • Hampden Street School
    Marris, John S. (1980) Hampden Street School, Nelson: reunion, 1868-1980. Nelson, New Zealand: Reunion Organising Committee.

  • Hira School
    Gregson, P. (1997) Hira School 125th reunion. [Hira, N.Z.] : The School

  • Nayland College
    McHardy, J. (1991) Nayland college the growing years. Nelson, New Zealand: Nayland Jubilee Committee.
    Stade, K. (2016) Daring to be different : the Nayland College way 1966-2016. Nelson, New Zealand : Nayland College

  • Nelson Central School
    Gee. M. (1978). 1878-1978 Nelson Central School: A History.  Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson Central School Centennial Committee.
    Stade, K. (2003) Aim high = Ki runga rawa : the story of Nelson Central School, 1878-2003, 125th Jubilee. Nelson, New Zealand: K. Stade

  • Nelson College
    Dunstan, M. and Dodson, M. (2006). Nelson College: images of an era. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson College Old Boys' Association

  • Nelson College for Girls
    Mills, C. B. (1933). Nelson College for Girls: fifty years 1883-1933. Nelson, New Zealand: A.G. Betts & Son, Printers.
    Price, K. (2008). The school on the hill: Nelson College for Girls 1883-2007. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson College for Girls.
    Voller, L.C. (1982). Sentinel at the gates: Nelson College for Girls 1883 - 1983. Nelson, New Zealand: Nelson College for Girls' Old Girls Assoc.(Inc.).

  • Nelson Intermediate School
    Ellis-Emery, F. (1991) Nelson Intermediate School history, 1951-1991[Nelson, N.Z.] : Nelson Intermediate School

  • Saint Josephs School
    Sisters of our lady of the Missions, Nelson (1971) Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Nelson, New Zealand: Sacred Heart College - St Joseph's School, 1871-1971. [Nelson, NZ]: authors

  • Stoke School
    150 years of education, Stoke School, 1845-1995 (1995) Nelson, New Zealand: Jubilee Committee.
    Early history of Stoke School 1845-1945 (1945). Nelson, New Zealand: The School.
    Stoke School 125 years, 1845-1970: a summary of the history of Stoke School (1970) Stoke, New Zealand: 125th Anniversary Committee.

  • Tāhunanui School
    Stade, K (2008). The school by the sands: a century of Tahunanui School, Nelson : 1908-2008. Nelson, New Zealand: The School.

  • Victory School
    Victory School : fiftieth anniversary 1949-1999. (1999) Nelson, N.Z. : Victory School


Web Resources

Links to school sites are in text.